Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2009


To teach a survey course in any discipline is, almost by definition, to construct and propagate the kind of grand narrative of history that has been discredited by postmodernism, deconstruction, multiculturalism, and, in fact, by most contemporary theory. Certainly, to perpetuate unthinkingly an authoritarian reverence for “Great Books” is antithetical to the spirit of a humanist education today, yet survey courses with titles like “Masterworks of English Literature” (the class I teach at the University of Connecticut) remain staples of most undergraduate plans of study. A similar pedagogical challenge accompanies introductory courses in philosophy, history, and the sciences. Starting from the assumption that it is possible to teach from the canon without merely promulgating it, I consider three ways in which canonical texts can be employed in a survey course setting as a means of teaching the canon and deconstructing it at the same time.



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